JOSEPH LITTUA WRITES—Joji, a Japanese-Australian R&B singer, is not your classic success story. In fact, one might argue that he is not yet a star. But his transition from dark social commentary via his old Youtube Channel, TVFilthyFrank, to the music that he is known for today is somewhat astonishing.
Until early 2017, George Miller was not known as Joji. He was known as the star of TVFilthyFrank, a Youtube channel notorious for content that could be described as, well, filthy. The channel presented many controversial songs touching on offensive and highly controversial topics: Pedophilia and dog eating, for example, in the form of parodies as to how modern-day social media presents such material. These songs were vulgar and explicit, much like the rest of his channel’s content, and were a focal point of his Youtube career.
At the same time, he wrote serious music then too, such as his song from the video “WEIRD MCDONALD’S RAP,” otherwise known as “Ronald’s Dream.” While the song is a parody of other jazz-rap fusions that have become common to modern hip hop, it also reveals the influence of more classic hip hop artists, including Earl Sweatshirt and the late Mac Miller. The song in fact features aspects of “lo-fi hip-hop,” a subgenre mostly characterized by purposeful imperfections that would normally be fixed in a professional environment, like misplayed notes or phonographic imperfections. The effect is supposed to evoke nostalgia and warmth, something not necessarily common in most hip-hop songs.
His transition to Joji, which is the romanized version of how the Japanese sound out the name “George,” came in the SoundCloud project known as “Chloe Burbank,” a project of two songs often cited as the launching pad for his music career. Both “thom” and “you suck charlie” are characterized by a distorted and looped piano melody in the background, a “drunk” bass drum beat inspired by the late hip-hop producer J Dilla, and lyrics that evoke melancholy. These set the standard for a new, iconic nature and feel to Joji’s music.
That tone permeated his work with 88Rising, the record label and music collective with which he signed in 2017. Although songs such as “Will He” and “worldstar money” were at first seen as extensions of past musical releases, his next album release, Ballads 1, debuted #3 on the Billboard 200 and peaked in the US Billboard Top 100 R&B/Hip-Hop Albums at #1.
Will the 88Rising star continue to soar? That, of course, depends on the quality of Joji’s music and whether he re-invents himself yet again, in the post-TVFilthyFrank/Joji era. Kanye rose quickly to the top and was consistently there for a long time; why not Joji?